It has been a difficult year for John Dunne, his first as head basketball coach of Saint Peter's in Jersey City. Following on the heels of a successful 2006 campaign that saw the team make the MAAC tournament championship game and achieve a 17-15 record, the team has a 3-19 mark overall, 1-11 in the conference. The streak of three straight winning seasons for the Peacocks will end.
"Losing stinks," the former Archbishop Molloy standout said bluntly. "There aren't a lot of moral victories. We've been close a bunch of times - we don't have far to go to get over the hump. The beautiful thing about college basketball is the conference tournament; it gives you a chance to make the NCAA's. We're competing hard, we definitely believe we don't have far to go to get over the hump."
The biggest reason for the lack of wins this season has been the loss of Keydren Clark, the star guard who was the catalyst of the team.
Clark was the star last season, averaging 26 points per game. More then just a scorer, Clark also led the team in assists and steals.
"I think that for the group that returned, the biggest adjustment was playing without Clark," said Dunne, who takes over for the retired Bob Leckie, another Queens native. "Not only did he score the ball so well and took the shots, he was the guy that they went to in crunch time. He got other guys open shots."
Without Clark, the program is in transition. In a year of rebuilding, it has been a tough stretch for Dunne and St. Peter's, a team that has lost 18 of the last 19 games it has played in. Yet, it's not enough to keep Dunne down. The ties to the Tri-State Area are deep and coarse through the veins of a man who exudes the excitement and hustle of a city that never sleeps.
His personal history in the game goes back to Molloy, where he was a teammate of Kenny Anderson, who would blossom into one of the top point guards in the NBA during the 1990s. Dunne, a standout in his own right, then moved on to a successful collegiate career at Ithaca, where he was a four-time letterwinner.
It's his experience, the time spent on the playgrounds and in the pickup games as a youth in Queens that St. Peter's is banking on to return the program to prominence.
This son of the city knows the area player, the mentality of a young man who has grown up on the asphalt of New York City, whose game is hewn uniquely in the Big Apple.
"New Jersey, and then New York, and even Philadelphia, those are our main areas of focus," Dunne states. "Having lived in New Jersey the last 5 1/2 years and being raised in Queens and having relationships is a big benefit. Recruiting comes down to relationships; if you don't have them, you try to build them."
He continues on this theme, eagerly talking about the players from the greater New York City area, his voice building with enthusiasm, "I think there are so many players in the cities. Not to say we don't venture out to the suburbs, but primarily these are our areas. You find the talent you like, from a good program, hopefully he's coached well. New York kids definitely have a level of toughness that is made in the playground, the same goes for New Jersey; they love to play all day long."
The goal for Dunne is to rebuild a program just not around one player, but around a community. He hopes to build a "family" at St. Peter's based on "a movement-based offense; everyone is involved in touching the ball, in the post and along the perimeter. We want our big guys to step out and handle the ball, our guards should be in the post from time-to-time. For us, if you have the skill and a decent basketball IQ, then you're going to do well."
There will be no shortcuts or even shortchanges in the process, no compromising of morals for a coach who remains vigilantly grounded in his integrity.
Dunne remains a unique commodity in the increasingly ruthless world of college basketball, a man of character and conviction. For a player to be a Peacock, he remains heedful to the concept that he must be a well-rounded individual with his priorities aligned.
"We want a player, obviously, but first and foremost we want a guy with character," Dunne says about potential recruits. "Not just an athlete, he should want to go to class. Do the right things on and off the court. Secondly, a player with a high basketball IQ - that's a nice piece to add."
His patience and character have been tested in a very trying season. For now though, the coach steeped in local lore and an appreciation of the city's basketball tradition must content himself with biding his time, taking a program in transition up the ladder, step by painstaking step.
A former assistant at Seton Hall, Dunne has had a taste of the big-time and knows that his time will come.
"We do have a good nucleus to build around," he comments. "When you have role guys who have to step up and haven't had playing time, well, it is not an easy adjustment. You have to take your lumps, and we are."
However, knowing Dunne, it will be just a matter of time until his team begins to dish out some lumps of their own.
©2007 Community News Group
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